Relatives and lawyers of people who died in the two Boeing 737 MAX crashes will meet with US Attorney General Merrick Garland within the week. Those relatives and lawyers have begun legal action against the US Justice Department. The legal action relates to the DOJ striking a deal with Boeing early last year over the MAX crashes.
Relatives of 737 MAX victims take the Department of Justice to court
News agency Reuters is reporting the US Justice Department confirmed the meeting in a court hearing this week. It comes as some relatives of some people who died in the crashes challenge the deferred prosecution agreement.
In October 2018, a 737 MAX operated by Lion Air crashed into the sea shortly after takeoff from Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. One hundred and eighty-nine passengers and crew died.
In March 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crashed while operating a flight between Addis Ababa and Nairobi. The crash killed all 157 people onboard. Subsequently, jurisdictions around the world grounded the plane, and a long-running scandal engulfed Boeing,
After an investigation, the US Department of Justice charged Boeing with conspiracy. The DOJ said, “Boeing’s employees chose the path of profit over candor by concealing material information from the FAA concerning the operation of its 737 MAX airplane and engaging in an effort to cover up their deception.”
Victims’ relatives kept in the dark about negotiations with Boeing
In January 2021, the Justice Department agreed to resolve the conspiracy charge subject to Boeing paying over US$2.5 billion in fines and compensation. This included the aircraft manufacturer paying $500 into a fund to compensate the heirs, relatives, and legal beneficiaries of those who died.
But some relatives and their lawyers say the Justice Department violated their rights by striking this deal with Boeing. They filed a motion in court in December 2021, asking the court to rescind Boeing’s immunity from criminal prosecution.
The Justice Department allegedly never consulted victims’ families and representatives when negotiating the January 2021 deal. The relatives’ party to the legal action say the negotiation process was secretive and designed to deliver Boeing a favorable deferred prosecution agreement.
“Boeing and the government deliberately excluded those who were most concerned with the negotiations – the families of the victims,” Paul Cassell, a former federal judge who is currently a professor of law at the University of Utah, told US publication Corporate Crime Reporter.
“In concealing its negotiations from Boeing’s victims, the Government plainly violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act – a broad bill of rights protecting victims of federal crimes.”
737 MAX crash fallout continues
Most victims’ families first learned of the deal via news reports. News of their upcoming meeting with the Attorney General emerged following the court hearing this week. In this weeks’ hearing, Boeing successfully asked for a brief adjournment to meet with the victims’ families before formally responding to their motion.
The Department of Justice investigation into Boeing following the two crashes revealed a significant criminal conspiracy at the aircraft manufacturer to conceal safety problems from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Critically, the investigation found two technical pilots at Boeing discovered information about a change to an important aircraft part called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) that impacted the flight control system of the Boeing 737 MAX.
Rather than pass on the information, the Department of Justice alleged through these pilots, Boeing concealed this information and deceived the FAA about MCAS. Investigations into both crashes found the design flaws in MCAS contributed to the crashes.
In October 2021, one of those technical pilots, Mark Forkner, was indicted by a grand jury of hindering the ability to protect airline passengers. Prosecutors successfully argued he provided regulators with “false, inaccurate, and incomplete information” about MCAS. They also say he schemed to defraud Boeing’s US‑based airline customers to obtain tens of millions of dollars.